Having drink supplies on hand doesn’t have to break the bank — you can easily stock your bar for $100 or less! Learn what you need to buy to keep your bar stocked with goodies to make tons of drinks.
Setting up a home bar and stocking it for success doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
I’m here to tell you you stock your bar for $100 or less and you can be prepared for anything from a brunch to a nightcap.
What do I mean when I say “bar?”
I do NOT mean that you need to have a wet bar in your basement complete with a mini-fridge and ice maker.
If you do, great — I’m jealous. But even I, a cocktail blogger, do not have such a set-up. (Shocking, I know. We don’t even have a basement!)
Your home “bar” may just be a corner of your kitchen counter, or perhaps your booze is stashed in a cabinet. It really doesn’t matter! Your home bar is whatever area YOU designate it to be. The end.
I store most of our booze in our sideboard (you’d expect a cocktail blogger to have a larger-than-normal collection, right?) but I keep a few fancier-looking bottles out on our bar cart.
You can get by with a lot less than I do. In fact, when my husband and I have people over, we usually only stick to the basics I am presenting here.
Factors to consider when stocking your bar
For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to make some assumptions.
Guessing you are either planning a small party or planning to have a few friends over a couple of times a month, like a game night or brunch.
If you are planning a party, there are a few things to consider:
- number of guests
- length of the party
You probably cannot have 50 people over and only spend $100 on alcohol. (Anyone willing to try?) For this exercise, I am showing you how to stock your bar for a smaller party of 10-15 guests.
Please take all of this with a grain of salt and customize things to how YOU like them and how YOUR party will be. No party is alike.
Tools you’ll need
Another assumption: The list below is all about the spirits and ingredients to buy for $100. I’m going to assume that you already have the basic bar tools, so those would be extra on top of the $100 price tag.
If you don’t, I recommend you pick up a set of cocktail tools that’s already put together. The main tools you will need are these:
If new tools aren’t in your budget, don’t fret. Here I break down all the ways you can hack a cocktail with whatever tools you have on hand. You can make ice in a muffin tin or shake a cocktail in a mason jar. There are no rules! And no one will care because, after all, you’re making THEM drinks.
Oh, I also didn’t include any glassware in this list. I’m guessing you’ll be purchasing some clear plastic cups or maybe you have a set of stemless wine glasses (my favorite for making cocktails on the fly).
Budget alcohol for a party
The prices below are based on what I can find here in North Carolina, where we have state-run liquor stores. The prices of spirits in your state or country will very likely vary, but I’m assuming that what you’ll pay will probably be somewhat close to what I have here.
I’m also not accounting for shipping and taxes. Those are going to vary for everyone, too.
So, let’s get into it, shall we?!
For a cocktail party with 10-15 guests, you will need 4 to 5 fifths of booze. (A fifth is 750 mL). You will want a mix of spirits, beer and wine. People like options.
We’re going to get a few bottles of spirits:
1 vodka or gin + 1 whiskey + 1 “variable” spirit + 1 vermouth
Your “variable” spirit is going to be your wild card. You might choose rum in the summer for classic mojitos and daiquiris, but in the winter you might opt for a sweet liqueur such as Kahlua to make White Russians and tootsie rolls.
These four bottles should get you through almost any request. No one expects you to have a full bar, so this is a good starter set.
Vodka or Gin, 750mL ($12-20)
Vodka is a good base for many drinks because it lacks flavor. Some people call gin “flavored vodka” because of the botanical, herbal notes. Whichever you prefer, it’s a good idea to have a light spirit on hand. It’s a great way to spike punch, but it’s a classic in a gin & tonic or vodka cranberry.
Budget vodka: SKYY ($12.95) or Finlandia ($15.95)
Splurge vodka: Tito’s ($25)
Budget gin: Seagram’s ($12.95) or Beefeater ($19.95)
Splurge Gin: Bombay ($19.95)
Whiskey, 200 mL* ($4-12)
Whiskey can mean a few things — bourbon, rye, Irish, Canadian, scotch. They are all made a little differently, and you don’t necessarily want to switch them for each other because doing so may alter your cocktail recipe in a not-so-nice way. This is probably not the time to splurge on single-barrel, either.
*Everything else so far has been for a fifth (750 mL), but I’m suggesting you get 200 mL here unless you know your guests really like whiskey. (Mine do!)
Budget whiskey: Maker’s Mark ($9.95), Woodford Reserve ($11.95), Jack Daniels ($8.95) or Evan Williams ($3.95)
Splurge whiskey: Old Forrester ($24.95 for 750 mL) or Bulleit ($16.95 for 350 mL)
Variable Spirits ($12-$30)
This is where you can have some fun. Maybe you’ll dream up a signature cocktail to serve with it. Maybe you’ll do margaritas and palomas with tequila. Maybe you’ll do mojitos and daiquiris with rum. Maybe you’ll whip up a White Russian. Let this pick be your wild card.
Rum, 750 mL ($14-$22): Bacardi ($12.95), Captain Morgan ($15.95), Sailor Jerry’s ($21.95)
Tequila, 750 mL ($18-$22): José Cuervo ($20.95), El Jimador ($21.95), Lunazul ($21.95)
Liqueur ($20-$30): Kahlua ($24.95), Baileys ($29.95)
Other options: You will need some amaro for negronis as well, or if you’re planning to mix up any Aperol spritzes or any other bitter cocktails. Champagne is another great option for making fun cocktails or sipping on its own.
You will want to pick up some vermouth as well. It comes in dry and sweet varieties, but you probably don’t need both, though sweet vermouth is more versatile for manhattans and negronis. But you will want dry vermouth especially if you are expecting to make martinis. Buy a smaller-sized bottle. Keep it in the fridge after opening to ensure freshness.
Other items for a well-stocked bar
If you bought the most expensive thing from every category on my list, you’re probably getting close to $100.
Hopefully you didn’t, because you still need room in your budget for a few other items that your home bar should have on hand.
If you chose the low end, we’re closer to $40 so there should be plenty of budget left!
Beer / wine / champagne
12-pack of beer ($12-$20). Not PBR, Not Bud Light, but not the fanciest craft beer you can find, either. We’re on a budget, remember?
My reasoning is that not all 10-15 of your guests will have a beer. Some might have more than one, some might have just one, but most will probably settle for a cocktail. You know your guests best, so buy more if you think they’ll imbibe.
1+ bottles of white or rosé wine, 1+ bottles of red ($6-$8/bottle). Same deal with wine. If you’re serving cocktails and beer, you will probably be okay with one bottle of each. A bottle of wine can serve five 5-oz. servings — this isn’t the time for heavy-handed pours. Buy more if you think your guests will drink it. Check out these guides to rosé wine, red wine and white wine if you’re not sure which to buy. Make sure to put the white in the fridge before serving.
(If you don’t use it, drink it later. Also, wine makes a great hostess gift for the next party you attend).
Champagne ($10-$15) — optional. This one is totally optional, and you’ll probably want two bottles. I would only add this to the mix if you’re celebrating something, like an engagement or a promotion. Maybe a holiday! Bonus, you can use it in cocktails. It’s a great option for a variable spirit as well.
Freixenet ($13.99) is my favorite brand of budget bubbly. Check out this sparkling wine guide for more ideas and tips on understanding labels. (Don’t forget to chill it ahead of time.)
Pick up a 6-pack of these ($4-5 each). They won’t keep after you open them, so go for a few small bottles rather than the big 3-liter ones. That way you have some leftovers for your next party!
- tonic water
- club soda
- ginger ale and/or ginger beer (I taste tested the top brands of ginger beer for you)
- cola and diet cola
And if you don’t have these in your fridge already, you’ll want to stock up on them.
- milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
- water (a pitcher of filtered or bottled water is better than tap, if possible)
- ice (about a pound per person)
- orange juice
- cranberry juice
You also might already have some of these on hand. They’re good to have around. Pick and choose depending on your party and drinks you think you might serve.
Garnishes & such
Last but not least, there should be room in the budget for a few other things if you don’t have them already. Let’s try to keep within our budget and stock the bar for $100 or less!
Most of these will keep refrigerated or in the pantry, so you should be fine for the next party!
And there you have it! Hopefully you are able to keep your shindig’s booze costs under a Benjamin or very well close to it.
Once you learn how to stock your bar on a budget, you’ll be a pro for the next time. Just take a look at your inventory and see what you need to buy to fill in the gaps. Every party is a lesson in entertaining, and you will learn more about your friends’ and family members’ tastes in drinks, too.
Please don’t forget to have fun and let someone else do the dishes! // susannah